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Disney Faces Fallout as Executive Exits After Costly $400 Million Misstep

A large pile of burning cash in front of Chris Wray's FBI headquarters by photographer Dave Howells, with actor Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan in the foreground, reminiscent of a dramatic Disney scene.
Credit: Inside The Magic

The person behind the now-failed former Walt Disney World Resort Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Resort hotel has left the company after the House of Mouse lost millions of dollars.

Guests on the Galactic Starcruiser, a Disney World hotel

Credit: Disney

Executive Creative Director of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Leaves Disney Following Multi-Million Failure

Ann Morrow Johnson, the Executive Creative Director and Producer of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, has departed from Walt Disney Imagineering to join the renowned architecture and design firm Gensler. Johnson is the latest high-profile Imagineer to make this move, following former WDI president Bob Weis, who transitioned to Gensler last October. At the Galactic Starcruiser, Johnson was instrumental in the project’s overall concept, vision, and execution.

She led teams responsible for designing the story, facility, show, execution strategy, and guest experience. Later, she served as Vice President of Imagineering’s creative development and Blue Sky concepts, eventually becoming an Executive Portfolio Creative Producer. Under her leadership, the Starcruiser received multiple industry awards and offered an immersive experience unprecedented in Disney theme parks.

Although the Galactic Starcruiser closed last fall, its existence is a testament to Johnson and her team, as well as the actors and cast members who brought the experience to life. Walt Disney Imagineering Senior Creative Executive Scott Trowbridge noted that based on guest feedback, the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser ranked “up at the top” of all Disney experiences. Despite its closure, guests who experienced the Starcruiser overwhelmingly praised it.

'Star Wars': Galactic Starcruiser exterior

Credit: Disney

The future of the experience now rests with Disney Experiences Chairman Josh D’Amaro, who hinted at future developments but has not provided specifics. At Gensler, Johnson will serve as the Global Entertainment Leader, setting the vision and strategic direction for the entertainment and immersive experience practice. She will collaborate with organizations across various sectors, including culture, hospitality, government, and development, to redefine how people connect with spaces.

“Ann Morrow Johnson is the creative leader the Gensler Entertainment Practice needs at this moment as we continue to see exciting growth and momentum,” said Bob Weis, Entertainment Leader at Gensler. “Her extensive global experience in immersive experience design and storytelling, coupled with a solid foundation in development strategy and architecture, makes her one of the industry’s most sought-after leaders.”

Gensler is a global architecture, design, and planning firm with dozens of offices and thousands of employees worldwide. Adding Johnson to their team marks a significant step in their ongoing efforts to influence the world with innovative design. Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser was a two-night live-action role-playing/choose-your-own-adventure experience operated by The Walt Disney Company from March 1, 2022, to September 30, 2023.

Chewbacca with Guests on Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, a Disney World hotel

Credit: Disney

The experience, which simulated a space cruise in the Star Wars galaxy, occurred in a building adjacent to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the EPCOT Resort Area of Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida. It was thematically connected to the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In May 2023, Disney announced the Galactic Starcruiser’s final voyage would be on September 28, with the official closure occurring at 10 a.m. on September 30, 2023.

At the JP Morgan Technology, Media & Communications Conference in May 2023, Chairman Josh D’Amaro estimated an “accelerated depreciation” cost of $100-150 million over the following two fiscal quarters, which Interim CFO Kevin Lansberry later confirmed to be $250 million. Disney has indicated that “something” will be done with the now-defunct Galactic Starcruiser, though specifics remain undisclosed.

The Galactic Starcruiser, a $400 million investment, is one of Disney’s most costly theme park projects. Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Experiences, recently commented on the ambitious Star Wars venture. “This is something that had never been done before,” D’Amaro remarked. “It was difficult to even explain to the public, and I think it was incredibly brave for us to move into this space. … And this, to me, says Imagineering is still at its best today. Those learnings are employed on the next experiences, which we haven’t even announced yet.”

About Emmanuel Detres

Since first stepping inside the Magic Kingdom at nine years old, I knew I was destined to be a theme Park enthusiast. Although I consider myself a theme Park junkie, I still have much to learn and discover about Disney. Universal Orlando Resort has my heart; being an Annual Passholder means visiting my favorite places on Earth when possible! When I’m not writing about Disney, Universal, or entertainment news, you’ll find me cruising on my motorcycle, hiking throughout my local metro parks, or spending quality time with my girlfriend, family, or friends.

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